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President Biden on Thursday laid out far-reaching coronavirus vaccination mandates and other plans to fight the pandemic that resurged this summer in the United States with the highly contagious delta variant.
The measures will affect tens of millions of Americans and include mandatory coronavirus vaccination for all federal employees and contractors; vaccine mandates for workers at businesses with 100 or more employees; mandatory paid time off for workers to get shots; and immunization requirements for the workforces of all health facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid funding.
Biden announced new measures in schools, calling on governors to require vaccinations for all teachers and school staff. The administration will also give financial help to school districts that face penalties for defying state rules to enact mask mandates.
Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district, just mandated vaccination against the coronavirus for students 12 and older.
U.S. Postal Service workers were not included in Biden’s executive order requiring all federal employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The Department of Defense will double its clinician teams sent to strained hospitals, the Biden administration said, and the government will also increase its shipments of free monoclonal antibody treatments — shown to reduce the risk of covid-19 hospitalization — to states this month.
The Transportation Security Administration will double fines on travelers who refuse to wear masks, Biden said.
What’s happening inside North Korea? Since the pandemic, the window has slammed shut.
TOKYO — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump were sitting across a circular wooden table for a brief photo opportunity at their 2019 summit in Vietnam when a U.S. reporter asked a question of Kim.
To the world’s surprise, he responded — the first time that Kim, the leader of the world’s most closed society, engaged with the foreign media.
In the 2½ years since, North Korea has basically clammed up again. It has become so opaque that Kim’s stunning exchange in Hanoi seems unimaginable in the current information vacuum.
North Korea sealed its borders shut in the pandemic, even to its major trade partner, China, a move that the U.N.human rights watchdog saidexacerbated shortages of food and medical supplies. But the harsh measure has also led to a loss of firsthand insights into the country that helped policymakers connect the dots about internal pressures and trends that inform U.S. policy toward the nuclear-armed regime.
The Republican National Committee on Thursday announced it would sue the Biden administration over the sweeping new coronavirus vaccine mandates the president unveiled earlier in the day, arguing they were unconstitutional.
“Like many Americans, I am pro-vaccine and anti-mandate,” RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “Many small businesses do not have the money or legal resources to fight Biden’s unconstitutional actions and authoritarian decrees, but when his decree goes into effect, the RNC will sue the administration to protect Americans and their liberties.”
McDaniel also charged that Biden had told Americans he would not impose vaccine mandates. Biden administration officials have repeatedly stated there would not be a national mandate or vaccine passports, but encouraged mandates at the local level.
The White House estimated the new mandates would affect about 80 million workers — about two-thirds of the workforce in the United States. Biden on Thursday announced that businesses with more than 100 employees would need to require their workers be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus or undergo testing at least once a week. He also signed an executive order mandating all federal employees get vaccinated.
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Postal Service workers not included in Biden’s mandatory vaccination order, source says
U.S. Postal Service workers were not included in Biden’s executive order requiring all federal employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to a White House official speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss not-yet-public portions of the president’s plan.
USPS has a separate statutory scheme and is traditionally independent of federal personnel actions like this, the official said, though postal workers would be strongly encouraged to comply with the mandate.
The move exempts a massive chunk of the federal workforce — 644,000 employees and growing as the agency ramps up seasonal hiring — that interacts daily with an equally large swath of the public.
One of the Postal Service’s powerful unions, the American Postal Workers Union, in July criticized the administration’s efforts to require federal workers to be vaccinated and demanded that postal leadership collectively bargain on the issue.
“While the APWU leadership continues to encourage postal workers to voluntarily get vaccinated, it is not the role of the federal government to mandate vaccinations for the employees we represent,” the union said in a statement.
The Postal Service is an independent agency of the executive branch, and it is required to be specifically included in executive orders that apply to working conditions for federal employees. The virus has taken a toll on mail delivery; agency officials have said some delays are because of a lack of worker availability and generous leave time for employees who are isolating or taking care of family.
Politicians’ reactions to the White House’s measures on Thursday ranged from praise to outrage, underscoring how the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing fissures between the two parties.
The Biden administration’s new plan included a vaccine mandate ordering all businesses with more than 100 employees to require their workers to be vaccinated.
Democratic leaders took to social media to express their agreement with the president’s policy — most pointing out the effectiveness and protection inoculations offer.
“Thank you, POTUS, for setting us on the path out of this pandemic,” tweeted Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D). “Vaccines are safe, convenient, and our most effective protection against COVID-19. This will complement our efforts in Oregon to get more shots in arms and keep our schools, businesses, and communities open.”
Despite the criticism most of his party members have extended toward the president’s plan, Republican Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont supported the mandate.
“As Vermont’s experience shows, vaccines work and save lives,” Scott tweeted. “They are the best and fastest way to move past this pandemic.”
Since the shots became available, the party’s lawmakers have become some of the leading proponents of vaccine mandates, with states like California, North Carolina and Washington requiring government employees to submit proof of vaccination.
Red states — including Alabama, North Dakota and Arkansas — have prohibited such mandates, their leaders criticizing the administration for what they deem government overreach.
“I fully support continued efforts to increase vaccination rates across our nation but the federal government mandates on private businesses are not the right answer,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Some have threatened to “defend freedom” with legal action.
South Dakota will stand up to defend freedom. @JoeBiden see you in court.
An August CNBC All-America Economic Survey found that 49 percent of Americans favor vaccine mandates, with 46 percent opposing them and 5 percent saying they were unsure.
In response to the new protocols, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President Everett Kelley acknowledged the importance of vaccinations to protect workers. Yet he said employees “deserve a voice” in such decisions.
“We expect to bargain over this change prior to implementation, and we urge everyone who is able to get vaccinated as soon as they can do so,” he wrote.
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Elizabeth Holmes trial will not meet Friday after covid scare
SAN JOSE — Proceedings in Elizabeth Holmes’s high-profile wire fraud trial in Silicon Valley will be canceled for the day on Friday, after a juror had a potential exposure to covid-19.
Holmes’s trial began Wednesday in San Jose, with a packed courtroom of press, family and observers. Federal district Judge Edward J. Davila acknowledged that it was concerning that a potential covid issue had popped up during the first week of trial.
The trial is one of the most closely watched tech cases in years. Holmes, the former CEO of blood testing start-up Theranos, faces 12 charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and could serve up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Prosecutors have alleged that she misled investors and patients about how well her company’s technology worked. Holmes has pleaded not guilty.
The juror has not experienced any symptoms and is expected to get a test this weekend.
All jurors are fully vaccinated, and Davila noted he was operating with an abundance of caution by canceling the day’s proceedings. The trial is expected to be back in session Sept. 14.
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8 things to know about Biden’s vaccine mandates and other pandemic plans
President Biden on Thursday evening announced new vaccine mandates with far-reaching impacts, as well as other measures to combat surging coronavirus cases. Here are eight key parts of his plans, which will affect tens of millions of Americans:
Mandatory vaccination for all federal employees and contractors. An executive order willrequire all federal employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, eliminating the previous option to be regularly tested instead. The Biden administration is also expanding the vaccine mandate to employees of federal contractors. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said federal workers will have about 75 days to be fully immunized.
Vaccine mandates for businesses. A new regulation to be written by the Labor Department will require all businesses with 100 or more employees either to mandate vaccinations for all their workers or require them to take weekly coronavirus tests. The White House estimates that the policy will affect about 80 million workers, or two-thirds of the country’s workforce. Businesses that ignore the policy, once it’s in place, could trigger penalties of up to $14,000 per violation, according to a senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on the plan.
Time off to get shots. New rules from the Labor Department will require businesses with more than 100 employees to give their staff paid time off to get vaccinated or to recover from doing so.
Vaccination requirements for health-care workers. Biden will require health facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid funding to vaccinate their workforces, which the White House believes will impact 50,000 locations.
Measures in schools.The president iscalling on governors to require vaccinations for all teachers and school staff. The administration will also give financial help to school districts that face penalties for defying state rules to enact mask mandates.
Efforts to boost testing.Top retailers such as Wal-Mart, Amazon and Kroger will sell at-home rapid tests at cost for the next three months, Biden said, and free testing will be expanded to 10,000 pharmacies nationwide. Nearly 300 million free rapid tests will also be administered by community health centers, food banks and schools, he said.
Help for strained hospitals. The Defense Department will double its clinician teams sent to hospitals, the Biden administration said, and the government will also increase its shipments of free monoclonal antibody treatments — shown to reduce the risk of covid-19 hospitalization — to states this month. The administration also said it will create “strike teams” to help health-care facilities deploy the treatments.
Stiffer mask mandate penalties. The Transportation Security Administration will double fines on travelers who refuse to wear masks, the president said.
Mississippi has recorded 72 fetal deaths in unvaccinated pregnant women infected with the coronavirus, state health officials announced Wednesday, sounding the alarm on the virus’s danger in pregnancy.
Speaking during a news conference, Mississippi State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said those deaths had occurred since the start of the pandemic. The number, which includes only deaths that occurred past 20 weeks of gestation, "is twice the background rate of what would be expected,” he said.
“That’s quite a number of tragedies that, sadly, would be preventable right now,” Dobbs said, referring to the availability of vaccines.
The Los Angeles school board on Thursday voted without dissent to require mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for students ages 12 and up in the city’s public school system, with board members arguing that vaccination is the best way to protect students and keep schools open for in-person learning.
Los Angeles is byfar the largest school district in the country to take this step, as experts and officials across the country worry the surging and highly contagious delta variant could upend yet another school year.
Already, many school districts mandate vaccination for school faculty and staff, and in California the requirement is statewide. Many companies have done the same, and President Biden on Thursday ordered all businesses with more than 100 employees to require their workers to be inoculated or face weekly testing, and said he would do the same for all federal employees.
The Biden administration announced Thursday that it plans to expand access to rapid coronavirus tests, especially in communities that have shouldered an unequal burden of death and disease from the pandemic, as infection rates surge and too few people are vaccinated.
Using the Defense Production Act, the administration bought about 280 million over-the-counter tests for nearly $2 billion from multiple manufacturers. The tests will be distributed to grocers, online retailers, pharmacies, community-based organizations, prisons, jails and homeless shelters nationwide.
“We want to see more testing,” said Cameron Webb, senior policy adviser for equity on the White House Covid-19 Response Team. “We want folks if they feel the need to be tested because of exposure, because of symptoms or whatever it may be, they have an option that is readily accessible to them.”
Walmart, Amazon and Kroger will sell the federally subsidized tests at cost for the next three months, while 1,400 federally qualified health centers and hundreds of food banks will offer 25 million free tests. And Medicaid must cover the cost. The number of retail pharmacies nationwide providing free testing will expand to 10,000.
Webb said the administration also recognizes the ongoing need for community-based testing sites, many of which closed as cases dropped during what was thought to be the waning days of the pandemic. He said the administration is working to ensure that there is more access to testing sites.
The Biden administration announced Thursday that it would offer financial help to school districts that face penalties for creating mask mandates in states that have barred them, in an effort to protect them from financial losses that could come from penalties or funding cuts.
Republican governors and state legislators in eight states have banned school districts from passing mask mandates, stripping them of a tool that health authorities say is vital to slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Supporters of the bans have downplayed the threat of the virus, arguing that parents should get to decide whether their children should be masked. State leaders in Florida and Arizona threatened to cut funding last month from districts that defy bans on mask mandates.
Several of the bans, including those in Florida and Arkansas, are now the subject of court fights.
Last month, the U.S. Education Department announced that it was launching civil rights investigations of five states that had barred schools from creating mask mandates, saying they may be in violation of laws that protect special-education students.
Here’s what to know about the top coronavirus stories around the globe from news service reports.
Parts of Japan, including Tokyo and Osaka, will extend pandemic-related restrictions until at least the end of the month as the country struggles to contain a fifth wave of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the Australian state of New South Wales unveiled a blueprint of its lockdown that could kick in Oct. 18.
North Macedonia declared three days of mourning Thursday after a fire in a coronavirus field hospital killed 14 people and injured a dozen. Health Minister Venko Filipce said it was not clear whether all the 14 dead were covid-19 patients or whether some visitors might have been among them. The cause of the fire was not immediately determined.
In the United Kingdom, regulators gave a stamp of approval for booster shots, saying Thursday that “the Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca can be used as safe and effective booster doses.” The decision on whether to actually administer them is now in the hands of the government and its advisory committee.
Anti-terrorism police in Italy raided the homes of eight people alleged to have advocated violence, particularly against journalists, in upcoming protests over coronavirus vaccine requirements, officials said. The eight are under investigation but have not been arrested or formally charged. Nearly 73 percent of residents in Italy age 12 or older are fully vaccinated.
In India, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, a “substantial proportion of students and their parents” surveyed by UNICEF “reported that students learned significantly less” in 2020 compared with pre-pandemic years.
GOP senator threatens to stall Biden nominees over probe of virus’s origins
A Republican senator said Thursday that he would prevent Biden’s nominees from being confirmed by the Senate unless the administration committed to a thorough probe into the origins of the pandemic and released additional documents about the federal government’s role in coronavirus research.
Sen. Roger Marshall (Kan.) called on the administration to release more information about its coronavirus investigations, citing documents obtained by the Intercept that detailed how federal funds supported research into bat coronaviruses in China. Marshall also pointed to intelligence agencies’ inconclusive report that ruled out neither that the virus emerged in the wild nor that it leaked from a laboratory.
“It’s outrageous that a comprehensive global investigation on the origins of COVID-19 has still not been carried out,” Marshall said in a statement, calling for placing holds on Biden’s nominees at agencies involved in coronavirus research, instituting additional sanctions on China and taking other steps that he said would compel further disclosures.
Marshall has already placed a hold on Marcela Escobari, whom Biden nominated this spring as the assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development. That agency helped fund a global virus-hunting program known as Predict, which partnered with the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance on coronavirus research.
Marshall’s office also signaled that he would delay other nominees at agencies that were involved in coronavirus research, arguing that the research may have contributed to the virus accidentally leaking from a lab. Any single senator can stall a presidential nominee by issuing a hold request, creating procedural hurdles that can last weeks or months.
“Multiple federal agencies have provided more than $100 million in taxpayer funded grants and contracts to EcoHealth Alliance, and we still don’t have full clarity on where and how that money was spent. Among them, NIH has been highly uncooperative in providing this much-needed information despite numerous requests,” said Michawn Rich, a spokeswoman for the senator.
Nominees for senior positions at USAID, the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies involved with coronavirus research are awaiting Senate confirmation.
Universal masking, fewer exposures to positive cases curbed spread in university setting, CDC reports finds
Universal masking and fewer close-contact encounters with people with covid-19 curbed the spread of the coronavirus in university settings in a five-month period before the hyper-contagious delta variant became widespread, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report, released in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, was based on an evaluation of a quarantine protocol at Saint Louis University that considered mask use to determine whether a person should quarantine after being exposed to someone with covid-19.
From January 2021 to May 2021, a total of 265 students received a positive coronavirus test result and named 378 close contacts at the university. Compared with the close contacts whose exposure occurred only when both individuals were wearing masks, the close contacts who had any unmasked exposure had higher adjusted odds of receiving a positive test result, according to the report. Only unvaccinated close contacts who had unmasked exposures were required to quarantine.
Among the 378 close contacts, 7 percent reported only masked exposures and 93 percent reported any unmasked exposures. Among the close contacts, the percentage of positive test results was “substantially higher” among contacts who reported unmasked exposure, at 32 percent, when compared with positive test rates among those who had only masked exposure, at 8 percent.
The report also noted that any additional exposure was associated with a 40 percent increase in the odds of positive test results. During the spring 2021 semester, mask use was enforced on campus — except when people were actively eating and drinking in dining halls — for students, staff and visitors at the university, which has about 12,000 students and 6,000 employees, according to the report.
When positive cases were discovered, a contact tracing team asked students to identify exposure incidents with close contacts, in which someone was within six feet of them for at least 15 minutes during a 24-hour period. The number of exposures for each close contact was then determined, according to the report.
“Wearing masks and having fewer encounters with persons with COVID-19 reduced the odds of transmission in a university setting,” the report said. “In addition, there was no evidence of secondary transmission from either of the two students with only masked exposure who received positive SARS-CoV-2 test results, and who, because of the modified protocol in place, were allowed to forego quarantine.”
White House says federal employees will have a 75-day window to get vaccinated
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said federal employees will have a 75-day window to get vaccinated after President Biden signs an executive order Thursday afternoon requiring vaccinations.
At a regular news briefing, Psaki also said there will be “limited exceptions” to the vaccination mandate “for legally recognized reasons, such as disability or religious objections.”
“The interagency task force will provide a ramp-up period, and we expect federal employees will have about 75 days to be fully vaccinated,” Psaki told reporters. “That gives people more than enough time, in our view, to start and complete their vaccination series.”
Any worker who chooses not to comply and does not qualify for one of the limited exceptions will go through the “standard HR process,” which includes counseling and progressive disciplinary action, she said.
“Each agency is going to work with employees to make sure they understand the benefits of vaccination and how the vaccines are free, easy and widely accessible,” Psaki said.